Lately it seems like everywhere I turn there is someone offering to give me a flu shot! It’s been a sobering reminder of what the winter season most likely has in store for us. It’s also inspired me to look into some ways (besides getting a flu shot!) that we can do to AVOID colds and flu this year.
After a lot of looking…I am convinced that the VERY best way to prevent colds and flu is to keep away from germs where you are most likely to pick them up. So I proceeded to put together a list of germ “hot spots” to avoid.
Of course we can’t avoid touching most of the items mentioned in the list below….(most Americans touch about 300 different surfaces every 30 minutes)….but I think a little common sense and attention to what you’re coming in contact with can go a long way in helping protect you and your family.
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Here are some of the most common germ “hot spots” taken from several different scientific studies (listed below):
There are 200 times more fecal bacteria on a cutting board than a toilet seat. The reason? Many people rinse off their cutting board rather than thoroughly washing it.
Prepare a solution of a quart of water and “a jigger of bleach” and wipe down food preparation surfaces before making anything on those areas of the kitchen.
These innocuous-looking offenders are found on ATMs, elevators, telephones and drink machines, among other things, and are often located in areas that are not cleaned and disinfected regularly. First-floor buttons in elevators were the dirtiest because EVERYONE needs to go to the first floor. And these germs get transferred to the body part that comes in contact with faces the most — fingers and hands.
Use your knuckle or wait for someone else to push it for you.
Dashboards are one of the most germ-laden locations in a car because it is one of the warmest places and has ventilation systems on either side that can aerate spores, blowing them out among unsuspecting passengers. Because the dashboard receives the most sun and tends to stay warm, it’s prime for growth.
In addition to the dashboard….other car interior “hot spots” include: change holders, cup holders and children’s car seats.
Regularly wipe down the inside of your car with disinfecting wipes. Be more vigilant during allergy season.
Airplane bathrooms get cleaned, but the high volume of people they must cater to in a short amount of time leaves them very dirty very quickly. Many people, will not wash their hands effectively because the sink is small, and dirty hands transfer germs to the face easily.
Treat all airplane bathroom surfaces as if they are radioactive! Keep the lid closed when flushing, use a paper towel to handle lid, faucets and door handles after washing hands, then use hand sanitizer once back at your seat as an extra precaution.
The phone provides a convenient meeting place for two different sources of germs — your hands and your mouth. Several studies show they carry tons of bacteria, including staph (which can cause skin infections), pseudomonas (eye infections), and salmonella (stomach ailments). Many electronic devices are in leather or vinyl cases, which provide plenty of creases and crevices for germs to hide.
Use a disinfecting wipe a few times a week, and be conscious of where you rest personal items.
Handbags & backpacks are often place on the floors of restaurants, subway floors, bathroom stalls, etc. Such places can be highly infected with bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli, which can easily adhere to the bottom of bags and can spread easily to other places where you put the bag like dining room table or the kitchen counter.
Put your purse or backpack on a bench or a seat. Or, even better, hang the bag off the floor. If possible, wash and wipe your bag with soap and warm water regularly to get rid of germs.
Paper currency has a way of getting around, from germ-filled hand to germ-filled hand. It picks up germs, viruses and often trace amounts of illegal drugs, and all of that ends up in your wallet. Flu virus strains can be potent on bank notes for 10 to 17 days. Because men keep wallets in their pockets, the wallet is close to body temperature — an ideal temperature for bacteria to breed.
After handling the contents of your wallet, wash your hands with soap or use an alcohol based solution after every transaction.
In the laundry room, your average load of wash contains more than coffee stains. It can be packed with bacteria such as e. coli from clothing, towels and linens.
If you have to wash at lower temperatures, add a laundry disinfectant. Wash your hands after loading the washing machine, since bacteria and fungi build up on damp items. Avoid using the same sorting tables for clean and dirty laundry since the E. coli from the dirty clothes will transfer to the table and then back onto your freshly laundered clothes.
The metal aeration screen at the end of the faucet is a bacteria magnet. Running water keeps it moist, an ideal condition for bacteria growth. Because tap water is far from sterile, if you accidentally touch the screen with dirty fingers or food, bacteria can grow on the faucet.
Once a week, remove the screen and soak it in a diluted bleach solution. Replace the screen, and let the water run a few minutes before using.
The kitchen sink has about 1,000 times more bacteria growing in it than the average toilet! Bacteria loves to grow on the crevices in and around the slimy rubber stopper, contaminating whatever touches it—dishes, utensils, even your hands.
At least once a week, clean the disposal’s rubber stopper with a diluted bleach solution—soap and water aren’t enough.
The area near your front door is one of the dirtiest in the house, and once bacteria is growing in your mat, anytime you walk on it, it has a free ride into your home.
Spray the doormat once a week with a disinfectant. Leave shoes at the door, and avoid resting bags and groceries on the mat, too.
Your vacuum sucks in all kinds of bacteria and food, creating an atmosphere for growth. Each time you use the appliance you could be spreading that bacteria around the house.
Change your vacuum bag frequently OUTDOORS to avoid the cloud of bacteria that filters into the air. Clean the cavity of a bagless vacuum with diluted bleach and let it air-dry. Spray the brush with a disinfectant after every use—traces of bacteria can survive as long as 5 days inside the vacuum after you empty the dirt.
Did you know your dish towels can harbor just as many nasty germs as your sponge? A recent study of hundreds of homes across the United States found dish towels were contaminated with staph bacteria, dangerous strains of E. coli, and other bacteria. We often use towels to wipe up spills then reuse before washing them, which spreads germs.
Stick to paper towels to clean countertops, and save the dishrag to dry just-washed pots and plates. Change towels or launder at least twice a week in hot water and bleach.
Ironically, most soap containers are never cleaned so bacteria grows as the soap scum builds up. Plus, the bottom of the dispensers are constantly being touched by dirty hands, feeding millions of bacteria.
Scrub hands thoroughly for 15 to 20 seconds with plenty of hot water—and, if you have it, use a hand sanitizer too.
Restaurant Ketchup Bottle
It’s rare that restaurants regularly bleach down their tabletop condiment containers, and the reality is that many people don’t wash their hands before eating. So while you may be diligent, the guy (or gal) before you may not have been.
Squirt hand sanitizer on the outside of the bottle or use a disinfectant wipe before you grab it. Unfortunately, holding the bottle with a napkin won’t help because they are porous.
Even if you scrub the inside of your fridge…it may not be enough. A University of Arizona survey of 160 homes in three US cities found that the seal around the fridge tested positive 83% of the time for common molds. The mold can spread every time the refrigerator door opens—exposing anyone who’s susceptible to allergies and potentially contaminating the food.
Wipe fridge seals at least once a week with a diluted bleach solution or disinfectant.
Makeup Testers in the Mall
Free make up testers are tried on many people who come in the mall for shopping. Makeup like lipstick and mascara contain bacteria like E.coli and Staphylococcus, which crawl on the outer casing of these testers. Mascara and eye pencils can lead to pink eye.
The safest way to stay away from these diseases is to avoid using the testers. Try a new lipstick shade on the back of your hand and do not forget to wash it after testing.
Equipment in the gym provide a perfect environment for bacteria, fungus and viruses to thrive. Studies show that weight equipment is contaminated significantly more often than aerobic equipment, and disinfecting the equipment twice a day didn’t do anything to lower the virus count.
When you use a machine, completely bandage all your open wounds to avoid infection; avoid touching your face between sets, and make sure to pack an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your gym bag.
Your Shower Curtain
The soap scum hanging out on your curtain is more than just unsightly….vinyl shower curtains are microbe meccas. Plus, the force of the shower spray will make germs take flight.
Hang a fabric shower curtain. It will still harbor bacteria, but it’s much easier to clean. Just toss it in the washer, and use the hottest water the fabric can handle.
The Lemon Wedge in Your Drink
In a study from the Journal of Environmental Health, nearly 70 percent of the lemon wedges smashed onto restaurant glasses contained disease-causing microbes. Researchers ordered drinks at 21 different restaurants, securing 76 lemons. Testing revealed 25 different microorganisms lingering on the lemons, including E. coli and other fecal bacteria.
Tell the waiter you prefer your drink without fruit. Why risk it?
More than 84 percent of beds in U.S. homes host dust mites. These microscopic critters live in your sheets and feed on your dead skin, and their fecal matter and corpses contribute to asthma and allergies.
Don’t make your bed. A made bed traps the moisture dust mites need to thrive. Try bundling a dehumidifier with an oscillating fan for a two-pronged moisture eliminator.
How do you protect yourself from germs?
- 2010 study conducted by the Hygiene Council, “Hygiene Home Truths”.
- 2011, NSF International “Germiest Places in the Home” study.
- “Germs in the Workplace Study”, University of Arizona, Dr. Charles Gerba.
- Kimberly-Clark Professional, The Healthy Workplace Project, May 2012
- Study presented at an American Society for Microbiology, lead researcher Katie Kirsch, University of Houston, June 2012.
- The “5-second Rule” is a Myth, Paul Dawson, PhD, professor of food science at Clemson University.